The Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve is a World Heritage Site containing most of the over-wintering sites of the eastern population of the monarch butterfly. The reserve is located in the Trans-Mexican Volcanic Belt pine-oak forests ecoregion on the border of Michoacán and State of Mexico, 100 kilometres, northwest of Mexico City. Millions of butterflies arrive in the reserve annually. Butterflies only inhabit a fraction of the 56,000 hectares of the reserve from October–March. The biosphere’s mission is to protect the butterfly species and its habitat.
Most of the over-wintering monarchs from eastern North America are found here. Western researchers discovered these areas in 1975. Presidential decrees in the 1980s and 2000 designated these still privately held areas as a federal reserve. The Reserve was declared a Biosphere Reserve in 1980 and a World Heritage Site in 2008. The reserve remains predominantly rural. Reserve administrators continue to be concerned with deleterious effects of illegal logging and tourism. Conservation efforts sometimes conflict with the interests of local farmers, community-based landowners, private land owners and indigenous people.
The reserve extends from the mountainous forests of eastern Michoacán to western Mexico State 100 kilometres northwest of Mexico City. The reserve in Michoacán contains the highest elevations in the state, including peaks that reach 2,700 metres. The climate is classified as being temperate and somewhat moist with a rainy season in the summer. The average maximum temperature is 22 °C. Sub-climates exist in this area: cool and semi moist, semi cold and semi moist, and cold and semi moist.
The reserve is characterized by outcroppings of basalt forming fissures, faults and cliffs in a northeast-southwest orientation. Rock formations have replaced older ones such as volcanic cones and old lava beds. The soil is highly permeable, resulting in little surface water. There are some small ponds and arroyos. The forests of pine and oyamel fir trees provide microclimates that provide shelter when temperatures fall to freezing and/or there are winter rains. This area is predominantly covered in forests.
Millions of butterflies travel south into Mexico, from Texas and then follow the Sierra Madre Oriental mountains to the preserve. The butterflies congregate, clustering onto pine and oyamel trees. To many, the trees appear orange and branches sag from the weight. Dense congregations are thought to conserve heat. If warmed by the sun, the butterflies take flight. the beating of their wings has been compared to the sound of a light rain. The reserve is susceptible to lethal, freezing temperatures.
Five of the eight colonies are located in Michoacán but only two are open to the public: Sierra Chincua in Angangueo and El Rosario in Ocampo. Both receive visitors starting from November until March. They offer guided tours. In the State of Mexico, La Mesa and El Capulin are open to the public.
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